Has anyone ever asked you what your values are? Have you thought about them and can you articulate them clearly? Or is it more something that you just ‘know’ and ‘live by’?
I remember, many years ago when I was asked in an interview to pick three words that described me and ‘what I stood for’. It was really tricky! More because I was worried about missing out something really important that mattered to me… Sometimes I find that with my kids too – there are so many things that I want for them.
Some of these are to do with the values that I hold dear, and some are to do with the skills and abilities I want them to have, to be able to live their best life. Life skills, behaviours, social skills, abilities… in today’s blog I want to break some of that down, and I’ll look at two books as part of this: Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane’s Growing up Social and Mel Robbins’ The 5 Second Rule.
The definition of values is ‘principles or standards of behaviour; one's judgement of what is important in life.’
I value and I want to pass on to my children things like: Integrity, Honesty, Kindness, Respect, Empathy, Love, Determination, Justice, Generosity, Gratitude, Consideration, Doing your best and Forgiveness. I want my children to be able to grow up to be happy, confident, resilient individuals. As most parents do, I want them to be able to thrive and believe in themselves and live their dreams, whatever these look like.
I feel that while the children are still small, it is my (and my husband’s) responsibility to equip them with the right skills to be able to do this, to trust their judgement and follow their instincts. And to give them all the tools (and enough practice) to make the right choices for themselves when they are older.
But it’s hard sometimes to let go and allow them to make decisions – especially when I don’t agree with them, or I know (!) that they will soon realise they should have done it my way…
A really simple example is when one of my three was little they’d regularly decide they wanted to wear sandals when it was really cold and rainy outside. Initially, I would insist that they wear the right footwear. And I made this non-negotiable. But that often led to huge arguments and tears and – more often than not – a power struggle and standoff.
Until I tried the following: I packed the shoes I thought were best and let my child decide to wear whatever shoes they wanted – sandals, flip flops or whatever. They’d head out into the freezing cold rain in sandals and within 100 meters stop and tell me they were cold and needed the shoes that I had packed. It was a win-win! No arguments and my little man learnt all by himself through natural consequences what type of shoes were best. And, do you know, he is still very good at picking the right type of shoe for different types of weather! ;-)
This was so much better than the constant struggle! But not only that – this example gave me the confidence in allowing my child to learn in his own time and way what is best and make the 'right' choice. And they can now make that choice whether I am with them or not. And THAT is the bit that is really valuable to me.
Time and time again, I see kids that are now in their teens, or even in their twenties, that have been so closely ‘managed’ by their Mums (and Dads), that they don’t actually know what it is that THEY want or what would be best in a situation. And even worse, some of them have never had the opportunity to have those experiences of making (wrong) choices in a safe space. And now they are either totally paralysed and unable to make any decisions for themselves, or they end up making choices that might not be so great for them.
It’s hard to let go, as a parent. Bit by bit - to allow our children to bit by bit become independent. Especially when the choices that the kids will need space to ‘practice on’ will eventually not be what type of shoes to wear in rainy weather, but will be choices around who to hang out with, whether to try alcohol and drugs (and if so where and with who) and how to stay safe in an ever more complicated world. I want them to be able to say ‘no’ with confidence and be able to know themselves, trust their instincts and go for what they want in life. I want to know that in most cases they will make choices that will allow them to explore, learn and grow, but still keep them safe and happy.
When it comes to teaching values I want to allow my children (to a certain extent) to experiment too, to talk about their experiences and figure out the best path. And alongside that of course, I want to lead by example through my actions, explaining why and how I do things and what effect this has on those around me.
So, what does this look like in practice in our house?
Honesty & Integrity
These two are really important for me. I really want my children to be able to always be honest with me, no matter what trouble they think they are in. It doesn’t always work, but I try really hard to make sure, when they do come to me with something they’ve broken or done, that I don’t get mad.
Instead, we talk about it and I hear them out and then we try and figure out a way to either fix it (if something is broken), or understand what difficult conversation needs to be had, if they’ve hurt somebody’s feelings. And only after that, do I talk about how I might be frustrated or mad, but that I also understand what was going on for them. It is not always that straight forward – but whenever I jump straight to being mad, the impact is striking: the children are so much more likely to very quickly deny what has happened rather than take ownership and proactively find a solution.
When it comes to integrity, the little voice inside my head always makes me ask myself whether whatever I am saying would be something I’d be happy to say to that person’s face. If it is, I feel like I can say it, if not, I don’t. Again, it’s not always that simple of course, and when I am mad I know that I can say things that are actually more about what is going on within me than anything to do with the person in question. When that happens, I do my best to explain this to my children and show them that I get things wrong at times, too. And when they have emotional outbursts we try and unpick what is really going on behind their feelings and actions as well.
Kindness & Empathy & Consideration
In our family we often talk about how our actions might make other’s feel. And how we would want to be treated. An example is sharing.
In our house, my children only share if they really feel like it. I think this teaches them to trust their instincts about what feels right to them and it removes any ‘guilt’ about being ‘good’ (or not) when they do or don’t share.
When one child does not want to share, but their sibling does, I might say things like: ‘This teddy is really special to R. It is his favourite toy and he is not ready to share. When he is ready, I am sure he will [and they often do!]. And if he’s not ready today, then that’s ok too. If you had a really special teddy, you’d also want to be able to decide whether you want to share or not. Maybe we can find something else to do, or another solution?’
Respect & Love
One thing that we’ve been working on in our house, is taking turns speaking. Especially when we are all sitting at the table for a meal, things can get really noisy with everyone trying to speak at the same time. It can be hard for children to wait, especially when they feel like they have something really important to say and are worried they’ll forget it. But it is such a life skill to be able to follow the ebb and follow of a conversation and ‘jump in’ at the appropriate time, adding to the conversation, listening to other’s points of view and then formulating your own ideas that you want to contribute.
We are still quite a way off getting the right balance of speaking/ listening/ taking turns, but when the kids do talk over each other or us, I try to say things like: ‘Hold that thought, it’s your turn next!’ or ‘Just let XYZ finish their story, and then you can tell me yours.’ And when the children complain that they will forget their bit, I try and reassure them that the really important thoughts always come back to be shared.
The bit that is hard, is when the children just repeatedly go ‘But, Mum, mum, mum….’ Until they can speak. Or even better, one of my children will continually say ‘Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me’ until I stop talking and give my attention to them. I have found, though that often there is more going on for this child than just wanting to speak. They are often frustrated, or feel left out, or are simply desperate to be heard. So, when I am able to, I stop all conversation and focus 100% on that child. Ask them what is really going on and when they’ve been able to tell me, I acknowledge their pain/ sadness/ frustration but also explain that we still need to take turns when we are talking at the table. It is a long process, but at least this way I hope that my children know they will always have the opportunity to express what is really going on for them, no matter what. Now and in the future! ;-)
When it comes to Screens, I find this has a huge impact on my children’s ability to listen, but also to cooperate and be a good ‘team player’. When they are watching screens they are totally focused on the task at hand and very little gets through to them. We have a rule of no screens at the table (for all of us). There is very little that I find more disrespectful than trying to talk to another individual who is distracted by the phone (probably because one of my love languages is ‘Quality Time’)!
If they’ve had a bit of TV while I cook dinner, I find I have to physically stand in front of the TV (or turn it off) to get their attention and get them to come to the table.
And if they’ve had too much TV/ screens (as I’ve pointed out in previous articles) I can always tell, as they are more hyper, less receptive to helping out or even contributing to the conversation. It is as if their senses flit from being numbed to being overstimulated and back again in an instant. It has been a real wake up call for me over the summer when we reduced screen time right down to maybe 2 hours a week. It made a huge difference to how the children played, behaved with each other, solved conflict, engaged with the world around them and joined in with family life. I know there is a time and a place for screens, but I can honestly recommend reducing the time right down. After the initial battle, life is so much better! :-)
Justice & Forgiveness
I think children tend to have a good ‘built in’ sense of justice. They know when they’ve done something wrong, or when someone has wronged them. The bit that is hard, is admitting those mistakes and owning them. I believe in apologies that come from the heart. And I know myself, that when I am still really mad at someone, my apology is far less meaningful than when I’ve had a chance to reflect, cool down and then come back to apologise ‘properly’.
So that is what we try and do in our house. If someone has got it wrong, I might say something like: ‘Hitting is not ok. It really hurts. That is something that we don’t do in our house. I know we all get it wrong sometimes, but next time you need to try harder to use your words.’ I will check on and cuddle the child that was hit and invite the sibling to also ‘check on them’ when they are ready.
Sometimes they are ready to do that straight away. Sometimes the guilt is too big and they just want to be on their own for a bit. But when they are ready they always come back in their own time to check on their sibling, apologize and re-connect.
This isn’t always with words, but in ‘child language’. So, when my middle one recently took her younger brother's car and hit him when he didn’t want to relinquish it, once she’d calmed down, I noticed her coming back to her brother with the car in question. She also brought him his favourite toy – sort of as a ‘peace offering’ and to help him feel better, as she knew she’d upset him. They didn’t exchange a word. Instead, the exchange that did take place was full of silent gentleness and kindness. The peace offering was accepted and connection was re-established from the heart. Much more effective than if I’d forced her to ‘apologize to your brother now!’, which might have left her feeling overwhelmed, resentful and simply not ready.
Determination & Doing your best
Teaching determination and ‘doing your best’ is an interesting one for me. Sometimes I find it hard to do this. On a number of levels.
1) Getting the balance right between being proud and praising their achievements and efforts vs. not putting too much emphasis on achievements, so that they don’t think that that is all that matters to me… I know that what you need to do here is always praise the effort and the work that they put in to get to where they got. Focusing in on the specifics of how they never gave up, they practiced and kept trying until they mastered that skill. I still get really proud and excited about the outcome too of course! But when they don’t win or get something right, there is never any repercussion. In our family, it is always seen as a ‘learning opportunity’ and a way for them to see how they can tackle that problem better or differently going forward. I think a lot of this is about instilling a growth mindset – something I’ve also written about before and you can read more about here.
2) Mel Robbin’s 5 second rule has also been fascinating. When I know I need to do something (and I know it will do me good) but I let myself get distracted or just hesitate until my brain talks me out of it, I have started to use the 5 second rule. I explained this to my eldest the other day and he was hooked. With all 3 children now, when I can see they are struggling to focus, or get out of bed, or just do a task that they need to stop procrastinating about, we 5-4-3-2-1- GO! and they just do it. They have started to do the same for me too sometime. With much giggling and laughter. It’s a great, really simple and light hearted way to help you do stuff and have some fun with it along the way! I also hope, that when they are adults and they are struggling with something, they will have a simple little tool in their back pocket to help them get ‘unstuck’…
Generosity & Gratitude
At the dinner table, we try to regularly go round the table to share with the rest of the family not only something that was great today (and something that was hard), but also something that we are grateful for. It is astounding what the kids come out with sometimes. From little things like: ‘I love my Lego’, to ‘That we get to spend time what’s-apping Nanny, or Omi & Grampa’ or even: ‘having my room’. In the everyday we don’t always manage to do this, but whenever we do, I am always reminded how good it is.
Another question we sometimes ask is ‘what questions did you ask today, or what did you learn today, or who did you help today (or who helped you today?)’ Especially the last two questions help to hone that sense of generosity (in the sense of giving your time and skills to others) and gratitude for being helped by others. I think talking about this regularly also helps children spot opportunities where they can help others, speak up when they need help themselves and have this as a lifelong approach.
Finally, when we see a homeless person who is less fortunate than us, we always do our best to give some money. Seeing the smile on the children’s face at giving something to others who are less fortunate is wonderful. The same applies to contributing to the food bank. In lots of major supermarkets there are now collection points for you to drop food off and I will often let the children pick one thing that they’d collectively like to contribute. They take great pride in selecting this and making sure it goes in the right collection basket. Again, I think this is all about setting them up for life.
There are also a whole heap of things that maybe don’t strictly fall under ‘values’ but that are still really important for me to teach my children. I want them to be able to stand up for themselves (as well as seeing things from another’s point of view), have the confidence to find and suggest great solutions to problems and resolve conflict.
I also want to teach them Resilience – so that they can have a deep seated knowledge and trust in themselves that no matter what, they can figure it out. That there are tricky days and good days and everything in between and that they have the skills to tackle these – or if they feel they don’t, they have the courage to speak up and get help.
I want to teach them to be confident individuals, that are connected to and honour their own sense of self, that (more often than not) can stay in their good place and know that they always have a choice as to how they react to others’ behaviours and stresses.
A lot of this is stuff I feel I am still working out for myself. I truly believe in sharing when I get things wrong, apologizing and reconnecting when I do, and acknowledging with my children that life is all about continuing to grow and learn and become your best self.
I am hopeful that way, I will get to build a solid relationship with each of my children, built on mutual trust and respect that will allow us to continue to grow and learn together as individuals throughout our lives!
Anyway, that’s it from me today. How to do you pass on what is important to you in your family? Is it similar things? Or different ones? Or maybe you teach them very differently? I’d love to hear from you!